How to create a first aid kit

No parent likes to think about this, but tens of thousands of South African children die every year, as a result of drowning, burns, poisoning and falls from bunk beds, roofs, roller skates and skateboards (Herman, 2006).

Nurse and first aid author Linda Buys (2015) says SA’s most common first aid emergencies include accidental injuries like minor cuts and lacerations, foreign objects in fingers and feet, muscle sprains, strains and cramps, burns, chemicals or foreign objects in the eye, poisoning, and asthma attacks.

This article unpacks the importance of a first aid kit and essential contents, so you’re prepared for situations where urgent treatment for an injury is required – or when professional medical care is either unavailable or unnecessary.

What can go wrong?

Some of the most common incidents that can happen at home include:

  1. Burns and scalds
  2. Cuts and grazes
  3. Ingesting chemicals
  4. Fever
  5. Headaches
  6. Insect bites

Arrive Alive paramedics agree, suggesting that the critical contents of an emergency medical kit are items to treat burn wounds, cuts and bruises, and fractures, as well as splints, band aids, scissors, tweezers, medical gloves for your own safety, lotions for bites and stings, and disinfectant (2017).

What should you include?

Medicinenet (2017) says your first aid kit can’t do without the following basics:


  • Adhesive and duct tape, to hold a dressing or splint in place
  • ‘Butterfly’ bandages, to hold the edges of a cut together
  • Non-stick sterile bandages, for simple cuts or abrasions
  • Sterile gauze, to control bleeding and prevent contamination
  • Sterile roller bandages, to support sprained or sore muscles
  • Anti-itch lotion, for relief of insect bites, itching and minor skin irritations
  • Antibiotic ointment, to prevent infection of minor wounds
  • Antiseptic ointment, solution, spray or wipes, for cleansing wounds
  • Cotton wool, cotton balls, and cotton buds or swabs
  • Disposable non-latex medical gloves (several pairs)

To these, the Mayo Foundation (2017) adds these elements of a first aid kit:

  • Eye shield or pad
  • Eyewash solution
  • Triangular bandage
  • Sterile burn gel and burn dressings
  • Aluminium finger splint
  • Instant cold packs
  • Plastic bags, assorted sizes
  • Safety pins, assorted sizes
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Thermometer
  • Bulb suction device for flushing wounds
  • Syringe, medicine cup or spoon
  • CPR mouthpiece (breathing barrier)


  • Aloe Vera gel
  • Calamine lotion
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Laxatives
  • Antacids
  • Antihistamines
  • Pain relievers
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Cough and cold medications

The required quantity of these items depends on the size of your family or on the specific trip, but your pharmacist can guide you (Affinity Rescue, 2014).


  • Small waterproof torch
  • Batteries and spares
  • Waterproof matches
  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Emergency whistle

Of course, you can also add your own medications to the bag. In this case, the American National Red Cross (2017) has the following advice for you:

  1. Don’t share your personal prescription medication with anyone, even if they use the same medication.
  2. Mark any headache, pain relief, anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medication accordingly, and store it in a childproof container.
  3. Ensure that only responsible adults are able to access, use and dispense included medications.

Useful tips for first aid

Essential First Aid Supplies (2017) offers the following handy reminders:

  1. Keep your first aid kit well maintained, properly stocked and up-to-date.
  2. Keep it locked and in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children.
  3. Make sure that the entire family and all caregivers know where the kit is kept and what it contains.
  4. Consider including a basic first aid manual or instruction booklet.
  5. Resist the temptation to over-stock your kit with random items.
  6. Paramedics’ top three must-have items are: a CPR mouthpiece, something to stop bleeding and splint fractures, and medical gloves.
  7. Never touch blood or body fluids without wearing medical gloves.
  8. Replace any items as soon as possible after you’ve used them.
  9. If you haven’t used the kit in a while, choose one day a year to audit it.
  10. When faced with an emergency, try to provide the best assistance you can to the injured person, but always ensure your own safety first.

Nurse Linda Buys (2015) adds, “The moment you feel inadequate and insecure when treating a patient, you can make a phone call to a medical officer, even your pharmacist or your doctor’s consulting rooms, for advice.”

Buys also shares her three secret weapons: “Colloidal silver spray works wonders on all cuts, [healing] burns, eye injuries, eye infections, throat ‘burns’, and tonsillitis. She suggests that a mentholated topical ointment works for earache, a ‘deaf’ feeling in the ear, and to remove earwax or smother any insects in the ear. For burn wounds, my best tip is: the sooner you rinse the area with cold water, the better the outcome.”


  1. Affinity Rescue, ‘The Importance of a First Aid Kit’. 2014. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.
  1. Buys, L. Health24, ‘Q&A about First Aid Emergencies’, 2015. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.
  2. Essential First Aid Supplies, ‘Importance of Maintaining your First Aid Kit’, 2017. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.
  3. Herman, D. IOL, ‘Children are not being properly cared for’. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.
  4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), ‘First-aid kits: Stock supplies that can save lives’, 2017. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.
  5. Medicinenet, ‘First Aid Kit – What You Need’, 2017. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.
  6. The American National Red Cross, ‘Anatomy of a First Aid Kit’, 2017. Available at:, Accessed 20 March 2017.


The Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA) aims to promote self-care and to enable consumers to responsibly and appropriately self-medicate and self-treat primary ailments where possible. As such, SMASA represents companies involved in the provision, distribution and sale of healthcare products. SMASA also engages actively in legislative, regulatory and policy development. 

No Comments

Post A Comment